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Byron Shire
February 26, 2021

No public input on rock-walls plan

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The recent article on the Belongil rock wall project saying it was open for comment unfortunately is misleading to residents.

There will be no public consultation on this matter.

The councillors who voted for it to happen never determined for it to go out on public exhibition.

Dumping rocks on the Belongil sand spit will not to be determined via a normal development application process but under Part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

Under this provision there is no process for residents of Byron Shire to make a submission on this matter either for or against it.

The decision is effectively to be determined behind closed doors.

This is the main reason I did not vote in support of this happening. I believe Byron Shire residents deserve better than this from our elected representatives.

Cr Paul Spooner, Byron Bay

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  1. Cr Spooner said “The decision is effectively to be determined behind closed doors.”
    This is complete nonsense, I have attended open Council meetings when the issues was debated and voted upon.
    In relation to the Part 5 process Tweed Shire’s Jane Lofthouse (Coastal Management) Coordinator reply to an inquiry about recent similar works at Kingscliff adequately responds to Cr Spooner’s concerns.
    Ms Lofthouse wrote, “The recent erosion event meant that interim works were required prior to being able to implement the longer term strategy.” [The works] “– could have been undertaken under clause 129 of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2002.

    Ms Lofthouse wrote, (SEPP Infrastructure) whereby “Development for the purpose of waterway or foreshore management activities may be carried out by or on behalf of a public authority without consent on any land”.

    And relevantly for this Council’s Byron decision on a Part 5 process.

    Ms Lofthouse also said, “[Tweed] Council did however undertake a Part 5 assessment, which is more rigorous than exempt development assessment, for all components of the proposal, not just the car park reconstruction. Approval under Part 5 of the EP& A Act 1979 was received in January 2011.
    Please note that the majority of these works were funded through the Natural Disaster Relief
    Program as a result of the May 2009 storm event.”

  2. To say that there has been no public consultation on this matter ignores the fact that this issue has been a matter of great public interest and debate for more than 12 years. Views are divided, but it seems that some refuse to accept that their view may not prevail. Another round of consultations will not contribute much more to the volumes that have been said.

    Nevertheless, a three week exhibition period has been provided for public comment. In addition, we continue to debate the matter passionately in the media, further demonstrating that democracy is alive in our Shire. Unfortunately, basic facts all too often are overlooked in the heat of the debate.

    For example, the works being planned are interim works to avoid the environmental and economic damage that occurred last storm season. The damage occurred because of the so-called ‘temporary’ 10 year old sandbags, which are the legacy of the previous two terms of Council. Past inaction has resulted in highly degraded artificial materials entering our Bay to become part of the food chain. Remarkably, the indifference that some people have towards the suburb of Belongil being consumed by the ocean is greater than their concern about the pollution of our oceanic ecosystem.

    A decision has finally been made to do something, rather than sit back and wait for more storms to destroy more bags and public beach access, incurring more costs to repair the bags, again. This decision was made in a public meeting, not behind any closed doors. It was hotly debated by all Councillors, which is what we were elected to do.

    Another basic fact is that sand bags have the SAME impact on the beach as rocks. Sand bags are hard surfaces. Furthermore, our own expert engineers have stated that rock walls constructed with voids can have a lesser impact on the beach because they absorb wave energy. Yet despite this obvious fact, some opponents of Belongil protection continue to claim that only rocks will destroy the beach.

    Last week, a photo in this publication showed ocean water lapping right up to a dune. This was in the context of an article claiming yet again that rocks will gobble up the beach. Ironically, no rocks could be seen, only slabs of bitumen making their way down a sand dune into the ocean. It was also claimed in this article that rock protections would cost rate payers dearly in the future – nonsense! The Jonson Street rock works have protected Byron Bay for over 60 years with no maintenance costs. The only protection works that have cost ratepayers have been the bags at Belongil.

    The real underlying issue is ‘planned retreat’. Like most rate payers, I did not know that this had become my Council’s policy a decade ago. There was no vote that I recall on the matter. It was a political decision made by a majority of Councillors. Planned retreat has merit, but only where there is a plan, and where there is somewhere to retreat to! In the case of Belongil, neither of these two prerequisites exist. The ‘retreat’ has already occurred. Over 80 meters this century. The houses there now used to have a road, and other real-estate in front of them! There is nowhere else to go now. There is no more dune to replenish the beach. There are only pipes, concrete, trees, homes, businesses and roads. To think that we can simply pick up a whole suburb and move it is fanciful. We do not have the legal right to force all the residents to remove their rock protections and demolish their homes. We will find ourselves embroiled in litigation and acrimony for decades, whilst Belongil beach becomes a junk yard for us to clean up. 90% of the suburb is already protected. Only 110 or so meters remains. Maybe in 100 years, Belongil, and probably much of Byron, may have to be abandoned due to sea level rise. For the present, we have more important issues to resolve than this one. Fortunately, we are blessed with many kilometres of beach to enjoy for the rest of our lives. At Tyagarah, where no sea side development is permitted, the beach may outlast our civilisation.


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